Privacy, Confidentiality and Informed Consent Policy
Authors and Reviewers
Manuscripts must be reviewed with due respect for authors’ confidentiality. In submitting their manuscripts for review, authors entrust editors with the results of their scientific work and creative effort, on which their reputation and career may depend. Authors’ rights may be violated by disclosure of the confidential details during review of their manuscript. Reviewers also have rights to confidentiality, which must be respected by the editor. Confidentiality may have to be breached if dishonesty or fraud is alleged but otherwise must be honored.
Editors must not disclose information about manuscripts (including their receipt, content, status in the reviewing process, criticism by reviewers, or ultimate fate) to anyone other than the authors and reviewers. This includes requests to use the materials for legal proceedings.
Editors must make clear to their reviewers that manuscripts sent for review are privileged communications and are the private property of the authors. Therefore, reviewers and members of the editorial staff must respect the authors’ rights by not publicly discussing the authors’ work or appropriating their ideas before the manuscript is published. Reviewers must not be allowed to make copies of the manuscript for their files and must be prohibited from sharing it with others, except with the editor’s permission. Reviewers should return or destroy copies of manuscripts after submitting reviews. Editors should not keep copies of rejected manuscripts.
Reviewer comments should not be published or otherwise publicized without permission of the reviewer, author, and editor.
Opinions differ on whether reviewers should remain anonymous. Authors should consult the Information for Authors of the journal to which they have chosen to submit a manuscript to determine whether reviews are anonymous. When comments are not signed, the reviewers’ identity must not be revealed to the author or anyone else without the reviewers’ permission.
Some journals publish reviewers’ comments with the manuscript. No such procedure should be adopted without the consent of the authors and reviewers. However, reviewers’ comments should be sent to other persons reviewing the same manuscript, which helps reviewers learn from the review process. Reviewers also may be notified of the editor’s decision to accept or reject a manuscript.
Patients and Study Participants
Patients and study participants have a right to privacy that should not be violated without informed consent. Identifying information, including names, initials, or hospital numbers, should not be published in written descriptions, photographs, or pedigrees unless the information is essential for scientific purposes and the patient (or parent or guardian) gives written informed consent for publication. Informed consent for this purpose requires that an identifiable patient be shown the manuscript to be published. Authors should disclose to these subjects whether any potential identifiable material might be available via the Internet as well as in print after publication. Patient and study participant consent should be written and archived with the journal, the authors, or both, as dictated by local regulations or laws. Applicable laws vary from locale to locale, and journals should establish their own policies with legal guidance. Since a journal that archives the consent will be aware of patient identity, some journals may decide that patient confidentiality is better guarded by having the author archive the consent and instead providing the journal with a written statement that attests that they have received and archived written patient consent.
Nonessential identifying details should be omitted. Informed consent should be obtained if there is any doubt that anonymity can be maintained. For example, masking the eye region in photographs of subjects is inadequate protection of anonymity. If identifying characteristics are altered to protect anonymity, such as in genetic pedigrees, authors should provide assurance, and editors should so note, that such alterations do not distort scientific meaning.
The requirement for informed consent should be included in the journal’s Instructions for Authors. When informed consent has been obtained, it should be indicated in the published article.